President Trump and congressional Democrats have finally found something they agree on: destroying a Massachusetts train factory and putting its employees out of work on the flimsiest of pretexts.
In coming days, Congress may pass bipartisan legislation that would make it virtually impossible for public transit agencies to buy subway cars manufactured by CRRC MA, a company based in Springfield. The White House has indicated its support, meaning it’s up to the state’s congressional delegation to stop the bill before it reaches Trump’s desk.
The company, which recently invested $100 million in a factory in the struggling city, has hired scores of union steelworkers and pays them $110,000 in combined salary and benefits annually on average.
Those workers assembled the new Orange Line trains, which are just now beginning to appear on the tracks in Boston (to rave reviews from riders), and also have orders to build trains for the Red Line and for transit systems in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
But none of that matters to a group in Congress that’s fixated on shutting down CRRC MA because its parent company is owned by the Chinese government. If passed, the legislation would punish any transit agency that buys from the Springfield factory in the future by withdrawing some of its federal funding, effectively preventing the firm from bidding on contracts for subway cars after it finishes its current orders.
Lydia Rivera, a spokeswoman for CRRC MA, said the legislation would doom the factory. “Upon completing our commitments . . . that facility will close, jobs will be lost, and you’ll have this $100 million facility in Springfield shut down.”
At first glance, the legislation looks like sheer protectionism against a foreign-owned competitor — but it’s not even that. In reality, there is no American subway-train industry to protect, and hasn’t been for decades. Instead, the driving force behind the ban has been American freight railcar manufacturers, who worry that if a state-backed Chinese firm establishes itself in the American market for passenger trains, someday it’ll expand into freight cars.
They’ve tried to manufacture a pair of national-security arguments to justify the ban, but neither passes the sniff test.
The first supposed danger is that the Chinese government could implant spy devices in the trains to track or eavesdrop on riders, creating “spy trains.”
Now, reach into your pocket. You are probably carrying a Chinese-made smartphone, equipped with a microphone, a camera, and location-tracking capabilities. Odds are good you carry it with you at all times, including in private spaces; have used it to share highly personal information; and hold it directly in front of your face for several hours a day. How an American-made train — a public space that riders occupy for a few minutes a day, often in silence — gets singled out instead as a greater threat to privacy defies logic.
The other objection is that once China starts supplying America’s trains, they’ll have access to, and thus a measure of control over, our “critical infrastructure.” Apparently riders are supposed to fear that once the T’s in the clutches of the communists, anything could happen: Beijing could set tracks on fire, cause trains to derail repeatedly, and make signals go haywire for months at a time.
Never mind that the software the trains use isn’t Chinese-made, and there’s no evidence supporting any of those fears.
It’s true that there are plenty of problems with China and its trade policies. But CRRC MA is a company that’s doing it right — hiring an American workforce and building trains that comply with “Buy America” requirements.
Losing the company would not only cost jobs in Massachusetts, but also leave one fewer competitor in the marketplace for subway trains, potentially raising costs for cash-strapped transit agencies. Congressional Democrats who demand action on climate change on one hand shouldn’t be making it harder for localities to provide environmentally friendly mass transit options with the other.
The legislation isn’t a done deal yet. The Massachusetts delegation — and anyone else in Congress who cares about public transportation — ought to make it a priority to stop the bill in its tracks.